GREEN BAY—The coaching staff may not have liked all the “extracurricular activity” after some of the snaps in Sunday’s practice, but one group that didn’t mind it – and was often in the middle of it – was the defensive line.
“The guys are really bringing a different attitude out there, and it’s welcome,” second-year lineman Mike Daniels said. “We need it. Just keep on getting more mean, more violent out there, and we should see some good things.”
It will take more than attitude, of course, to fix a run defense that allowed 4.5 yards per carry last season (26th in the league), but it’s a start.
It was on running plays that the intensity of Sunday’s first full-pads practice was most evident. There’s a right way and a wrong way to bring intensity to training camp, and at times the line was crossed on Sunday, mostly by younger players. It’s a good bet the issue will be discussed in meetings prior to the next practice on Tuesday.
After the workout, however, the defensive linemen were not apologizing for their involvement. The names Adrian Peterson and Colin Kaepernick weren’t mentioned in the locker room to reporters, but perhaps they were in the back of some players’ minds.
“It’s football,” said first-round draft pick Datone Jones, who wasn’t even part of the late-season defensive breakdowns against the Vikings and 49ers, but who has certainly heard plenty about them. “If you’re a true competitor, you’re going to get in a scuffle, because you don’t want anyone getting the best of you.”
Jones was the key addition to the defensive line in the offseason, a near-prototype 3-4 end at 6-4, 285. Through the first three days of camp, he has worked mostly with the second unit in base (B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and C.J. Wilson are the first group), but he’s paired with Raji as an inside rusher with the No. 1 nickel, a spot he says he’s “comfortable” with, having played it throughout his college career at UCLA.
Jones put an impressive bull rush against T.J. Lang in drills on Sunday that appeared to catch the veteran guard a bit by surprise. Jones said it was his way of mixing up his moves, even on the first day in pads.
“Just showing my coach what I could do, that I can be very aggressive,” he said. “I’m not just a finesse guy.”
Jones sounds like a player determined to prove himself. Fellow lineman Johnny Jolly is trying to do the same, in a different context, of course.
Jolly is trying to resurrect his career after a three-year absence due to off-field problems that included drug abuse, a league suspension and prison time. He hasn’t had any standout moments through the first three days, but the coaching staff has him on a rep count as he works his way back.
“I wouldn’t say it’s easy,” Jolly said. “There’s a little rust on me. Everything will take a little time, but I’ll get there.”
Jolly said he spent the month prior to training camp working out in his native Houston with NFL big men Shaun Rogers and Casey Hampton. His conditioning is better than it was in the spring during OTAs, and it will remain an ongoing challenge after so much time away.
When he last played, in 2009, the Packers led the league and set a franchise record for run defense (83.3 yards per game), and Jolly led all NFL defensive linemen with 11 deflected passes. That was Dom Capers’ first season as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator, so Jolly is coming back to a familiar scheme.
“That’s where he always thrived, as an inside player and his ability to get off blocks, his instincts,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said. “(But) we have to be realistic about where he is.”
Jolly is taking nothing for granted. His roster spot is as tenuous as they come, but he has teammates in the locker room pulling for him.
“I’m glad he’s back,” said receiver James Jones, Jolly’s teammate for three prior seasons. “He brings some of that nastiness to the defense over there, brings some swagger over there to the defensive line. It’s good to see him back. I’m definitely rooting for him. That’s my guy over there. Hope he does well, stays healthy and makes some plays.”
That goes for the entire defensive line. They’re just saying it with a little more attitude.
“We’re not there yet,” Datone Jones said. “We have to get better every day. We’ve got something to prove every day.” Additional coverage - July 28